The Next Challenge – A Dovetail A Day

Several weeks ago I came across a one of Chris Schwarz’s blog posts where one of his reader’s had followed his path in cutting a dovetail joint each day. This struck me as a great idea for my crazy self-challenge of the year. Cutting dovetails by hand is a skill that I’ve wanted to improve for some time, but had only made minimal time to actually practice. As Frank Klausz has said – if you want to be good at cutting dovetails, go cut dovetails.

For the first dovetail of the year, I found a suitable piece of scrap red oak I had about the shop and cut two half pins and a single tail:

A few thoughts on this joint:

  • The Lie Nielsen dovetail saw I bought at this past Woodworking in America cuts so much nicer than the crappy $20 big-box store saw I had before. I expected that to be the case and am pleased to have confirmed as much.
  • It was nice to use the new bevel gauge that my wife got me for Christmas. I didn’t measure the angle, I just found something pleasing to my eye and marked it on both sides.
  • I don’t have a marking gauge. I need a marking gauge. I do have a “Happy Birthday” coupon from Woodcraft burning a hole in my pocket, so this might be the use.
  • The fit is decent, but not great. It took more than hand pressure (i.e. my mallet) to snug together.

Some thoughts on this exercise as a whole:

  • I will use up this scrap of red oak. While those joints are getting cut, I’ll go buy a board of poplar or pine from the BORG to use as practice stock for the remainder of the exercise.
  • I don’t plan on creating a blog post for every day’s joint, but I will establish a separate page on the blog to display all the joints and the occasional thought.
  • I’ll move through a progression of single through dovetails, to multiple through dovetails, to half blind dovetails.
  • In no discernible pattern, I’ll play around with the size and angle of the pins.
  • I started this joint cutting pins first. At some point I’ll cut tails first too. I refuse to engage in a religious debate about this.
  • I need to sharpen my chisels.
  • My current work-holding options suck for cutting dovetails.  I don’t have a bench, so I have to resort to clamping a hand screw clamp to my table saw to do the sawing. I haven’t figured out a good way to hold the piece to chop waste yet. This will have to get remedied.
  • I don’t know how long I will run this exercise. At least a month. Maybe longer.

I know I’m just adding to an already lengthy to-do list, but I think it will be worth it in the long term. Thanks for coming along for the ride!

It’s Not Finished Until It’s Finished…

… or The Closer I Get, the Further It Seems

I am to the point now on this crib where all the construction necessary for the crib to be functional (i.e. everything but the drawers) is complete.  After assembling the trim that would frame the base, I attached it with my brand new biscuit joiner:

Unfortunately, I was slightly off in my markings for the biscuits slots, so I needed to cut into the inside of the base itself. I was able to hog out most of the material with a flush trim bit, but the bit wasn’t long enough to get the whole amount. This lead me to my mallet and chisel to remove the rest of the material in two places:

While these last modifications were being cut, I was also starting to apply the finish to the cabinet and rails. I decided to go with shellac for the finish, as that was the consensus pick for being a child safe finish. This evening I put the second coat on the cabinet and rails:

I really like the color that the amber shellac has brought the red oak – it seems to fit quite well. If I can avoid any drip marks on the final coat, I think this is going to look good in the end.  Sometime within the next week or so, Briana should be sleeping in it!

Anyone have any ‘finishing the finish’ tips?

Making the Fixed Break Down

One of the biggest hurdles remaining in building this crib was figuring out how to construct it outside of Briana’s room and then get it into Briana’s room. Constructed as per the directions, the crib is too wide, too long, and too tall to fit through her bedroom door. I could do the final assembly in her bedroom, but then the crib would be stuck there.

My solution? T-bolts!

There was just enough play in the crib’s plan that I was able to add an extra bar of wood between the rails and the cabinet/header of the crib. That will serve as caul, holding the rail assembly to the cabinet.  The first step was to sink the t-bolts into the side of the cabinet:

A shallow hole drilled with a forstner bit (to keep the face flush) followed by a concentric hole drilled to hold the full bolt. After some glue and a couple of small nails, the t-bolt is anchored in the cabinet side:

Next, I drilled another compound hole, to allow the hex screw through the caul while catching the head – creating my locking system. A couple of test fits and all looks good:

So now I have a crib that is sturdy when assmebled, but can be broken down into three parts for moving in and out of a room:

Three big tasks remain for the crib:

1) Trim – there are trim pieces that top the rails and top the base, holding the rail/ and cabinet assmeblies in place.  I’ve begun shaping the pieces to complete this, but there will be a lot of adjusting for a perfect fit – especially for the trim wrapping the base.
2) Finishing – There will be a lot of shellac, followed by sanding, followed by more shellac.
3) Drawers – The base will have two large drawers in the bottom.  They are last on the list, because the baby can sleep in a crib without drawers, and Michelle is eager to get the baby sleeping in the crib ASAP!

Christmas Gifts – Domino Set

Flipping through the weekly Rockler e-mail a few months ago, I noticed an ad for template for a set of dominos:

The set and that box struck a cord with me. My parents play dominos, so I thought this would be a great Christmas gift. The Rockler template for laying out the pips only went to a double six. I wanted a larger set and settled on creating a double twelve, which is 91 dominos total. I liked the contrasting woods for the dominos, so I sought out some 1/8″ walnut and oak to laminate together for the set.

The pieces I ended buying varied in size between the species, so I had to edge glue two pieces of the oak into a larger panel, using two cauls and my parallel clamps:

I set up the cauls and tightened the clamps ever so slightly on the panels before applying glue. Then I took the oak panels out, applied glue to the edges, and snapped them back into place between the cauls.  To keep the panels from bowing back up, I put my jack plane to a new use:

After getting the oak panel up to sufficient size, I slathered both sides in Titebond II and lined up the walnut boards.  I clamped the lamination between two scraps of plywood I had sitting around:


After some gluing time, I went through the process of getting the lamination dimensioned.

  1. Joint one side/edge flat on the jointer*
  2. Rip a parallel edge on the table saw
  3. Square the end at the mitre saw

* After jointing the first edge on my jointer, I realized that this probably wasn’t the smartest move on a piece that is only 3/8″ wide.

I ran my random orbital sander on each side of the panel through 120 and 180 grit sandings – to prep these surfaces before they got smaller and harder to handle:

Because of the size that I wanted to make each domino (7/8″” by 1 3/4″), so I decided to rip the strips on the bandsaw.  This not only was safer, but the kerf on my bandsaw blade is much thinner than the kerf on my tablesaw blade. After ripping the strips to width, I moved the fence and crosscut the strips to final length:

This left me with 91 domino blanks to use, plus a few extra – just in case something went awry. The next stop was to my pile of sandpaper.  I needed to remove saw marks from the sides as well as round all four corners. The results:

With all my blanks sized and surfaced, I turned to the face layout for each piece.  First I measured and marked the center line on each domino, chopping them with a few taps on a 1″ chisel. Next it was on to the pips, where I got my biggest assist from my wife.  Not only did she mark all the dominos after I finished chopping the center lines, but she drilled all 1092 pips in the set! Needless to say this project wouldn’t have been finished before Santa’s midnight shimmy without her.  A couple coats of shellac later and the set was ready to go:

Stayed tuned for part two where I delve into the box made to hold the dominos!

So You’re My Uncle Joey…

… better get used to these bars, kids.

Assembling the rails for the crib has proved quite tedious. Without a dedicated assembly table, I’ve had to make due with my table saw table for marking and setup – which works fine until you have to slide longer pieces across the table, throwing off any hope of perfect alignment. Can close enough be close enough? Right now, the magic 8-ball points to yes:


I expected this glue-up to be difficult, so I enlisted the help of my wife.  With 13 rails and 52 dowels I certainly needed it.  Despite Kari’s Rule #9, my wife was a willing assistant. I can’t imagine getting this assembly laid out, glue applied, and clamped without the extra set of hands.  After some mallet pounding, a few curse words, and the obligatory gnashing of teeth we were able to get the rails glued and clamped:


The parallel clamps were a huge help, allowing me to crank down on the the pieces and fight my way through some not-perfectly-drilled dowel holes.  I have 26 more holes to drill in another board, then we get to do it all over again for the second set of rails!

Besides being closer to finishing this crib (and its finally starting to look like an actual crib), a huge benefit from tonight’s work was my wife coming to the realization that I need both more garage space and more clamps.  With Christmas just around the corner…

Crib Coming Together

I spent several hours in the garage this evening, attending to a few different aspects of Briana’s crib. I built my first frame and panel door, which will front the vertical cabinet on the right side of the crib:


I ended up routing the groove through the entire length of each rail and stile, mostly because I’m not nearly comfortable enough to attempt to drop the workpiece onto a spinning router bit.  That, coupled with the laziness that prevented me from build a jig to properly support a router to plunge into the workpiece have left me with four small holes I need to fill. I have plenty of scrap pieces of the oak I’m using for this project, so I’ll rip some 1/4″ strips (the width of the groove) to wedge in there and trim flush.

I also got the sides of that cabinet assembled and dry fit (if you can call standing them on end “dry fit”) on the crib’s base:


The last thing I did tonight was to sand the rails to 120 grit.  I had previously sanded them with 60-grit sand paper, just enough to remove a few burn marks left by the round-over router bit. I had done that sanding by holding the rail in one hand and a sanding block in the other.  That was quite the effort, not to mention stressful on both my hands, so I was determined to find a better way for this round of sanding. I decided to treat the rails like a blade to sharpen.  I set the sandpaper on my table saw:


held in place with two of the rails I’m working.  I held the sandpaper down with my left hand (via the rail) and worked the rail across the paper in my right hand:


I got into a good rhythm and I think I this was a decent method to ease the amount of work during this round of sanding. Does anyone out there know of a better way to sand these mostly round pieces, short of buy a spokeshave and building a shaving horse?  I figure I’ve got one more round of sanding for the rails (likely at 220 grit) and anything that reduces the time I spend sanding is worth investigating!

Two Steps Back, One Step Forward

I haven’t spent much time in the garage lately, mostly because I made a huge mistake.  Remember how I had some alignment issues that I thought were purely aesthetic? It turned out to not be so.  When I tried to set the large panel that would serve as the horizontal base of the crib, I found out that it wouldn’t fit, because the panels inside the base weren’t set at the same height as one another.  Given I had already glued everything up, this meant that I had to break it apart, buy some more wood, and start over.

I haven’t had to completely start over, as many of the pieces I cut were unused to this point.  Thankfully, I was able to salvage a couple of the larger parts from the deconstruction to be reused.  Nothing was reuseable in place, but I was able to cut some of the smaller parts from the larger “scrap” pieces I now had.

One advantage to having to do this a second time is I already know how the first couple of steps are supposed to go – which allows me to move a little faster through the assemblies.  Another nicety of this assembly is getting to use my new Jet parallet clamps on the end assemblies:


I’ve now come to realize that you don’t fully understand the lack of clamping pressure you had on a previous assembly until you have the clamping ability you actually need.  Getting any kind of proper clamping was a stretch (pun intended) for the long axis of the crib base.  I have two Craftsman ratcheting band clamps that I was able to fit around the whole base, but just barely.  The straps are so taut that they vibrate like a stringed instrument.  I should take my guitar tuner out there and see what pitch they hit.


Now that I’ve made sure the horizontal base will fit and sit level, I can move onto assembling the crib rails next.

Framing the Crib

This weekend I took a break from commenting, to actually get into the garage and do some woodworking. I started Saturday morning with just a bunch of boards, but now I have a few pieces assembled that are starting to look like more than a random pile of wood.

The plans for this crib call for a ton of dowels (something I’m starting to lament). Given the first few holes I drilled, I knew I was going to need some help making the reciprocating holes in the second pieces of wood. Since there is a Sears Hardware right across the street, I headed there first in search of help.  I wasn’t able to find any dowels centers, so I decided to drop a couple of bucks on these:


That’s a pair of 3/32 inch drill bits, with 1/4 inch chucks. Since I’m using 1/4 inch dowels, I figured I could slip these guys into the holes I drilled, marking the second piece with the bit tips.  It sounded like a good plan, until I tried to actually fit the bits into the holes. Things were a little snug, to say the least – I wasn’t willing to force them in.  So this learning experience brought about a trip to my local Woodcraft store. Since this was my first trip to a Woodcraft (or any woodworking-specific store), I made a little list of things I wanted to peruse and likely buy.  Atop that list was a set of dowel center pins:


The set came with four pairs of varying sized pins.  Luckily for my project, there are a pair that fit into 1/4 inch holes as well as a pair that fit onto 1/4 inch dowels, allowing me to mark two sets of wholes at once. I picked up a handheld countersink bit (something I’ve wanted to get for a while) and a set of cabinet scrapers, from E. Garlick & Sons:


I’ve done quite a bit of sanding for this project so far (the crib rails), so I’ve been willing to try anything that would ease the amount of time I spend with grit in my hands.  These cabinet scrapers certainly fit the bill.  Right off the bat, I put them to use smoothing the outside of the butt-jointed legs of the crib.  Not only did it remove the slight lip caused by my less-than-perfect clamping, but the scraping left an amazingly smooth surface behind – a bonus I really had to experiece to believe! And, oh those wispy, sexy shavings:


Now armed with smooth boards and the proper marking devices, I began to assemble the pieces that will form the base of the crib.  The first part I worked on was the back of the base. It consistes of two horizontal board, doweled to a pair of legs, framing a sheet of plywood to cover the back.  The front is a matching frame, but without the plywood sheet – there are drawers planned for that space.  Here’s a view from what will be the inside of the piece:


And a picture of the front frame:


Given I’m assembling the first parts, I’ve offered myself the first opportunity to make a large mistake – which turned out to be an offer I couldn’t refuse*. Any one notice how there are about two inches of space on the front frame between the bottom of the legs and the bottom of the frame?  That same lift is supposed to be on the back piece as well, but I was in too big of a hurry when I started assembling.  Like I say – Measuring twice doesn’t help if you only think once.

As things stand right now, I’m willing to live with the aesthetic mismatch of the piece as it stands – especially since that part will be against a wall. Aesthetics aside, I had to deal with the fact that the piece of plywood covering that hole had to be arrange just so in order to fill the gap. If you look at things just right, you can see the slivers of light that make the gaps:


If I had made the frame properly, there would be about one inch above and below the frame to ease attaching the plywood.  As it is I have only adhered the sheet at the ends. I figure that I need to do some kind of sealing along those “gaps,” as well as putting in some angle brackets along the length of the plywood, to further secure the piece. If anyone has any suggestions on how to fix this problem (besides reworking the whole piece), I’m all ears – please leave a comment.

The sides of the frame were a little easier to assemble, being two frames of oak secured to a piece of plywood:


Each of the oak pieces will be drilled for dowels and attached to the legs (that are already part of the front & back assemblies).  On top of this will sit the massive 66″x33″ piece of 1/2 inch birch plywood.  Of course, that is all predicated on me clearing out enough floor space in the garage to actually assemble this.  That will likely prove more difficult than the slip-ups I’ve encountered so far.  I guess I better get to cleaning…

*No horses were harmed in the typing of this blog post.

Baby Crib – Take 1

The first bold step I’ve taken in this new hobby of mine was to declare that I wanted to build our first child’s crib myself, rather than buying something prefabricated; even Ikea “building” wasn’t good enough for me.  Like most projects (from what I gather) of a part-time garage woodworker, my timeline for completing the crib has slipped a little bit.  Our little bundle of joy:


is now a little over two months old and still sleeping in her pack’n’play – a situation that Mrs. ShopOwner is none too pleased about.  I figure if we aren’t “almost done” by the time the child is three months, I should have no trouble finishing the crib because I’ll likely be sleeping in the garage.

Back to the crib.  When we were searching around for ideas plans, we found a few that struck our fancy and finally decided on this U-Bild set of plans that we ordered from Rockler:


Right now I’m just focusing on the crib itself, and not the hutch that is also spelled out in the plans. Over several weekends, I’ve methodically been cutting all of the pieces to size, out of I don’t know how many board feet of 1″ red oak and three different thicknesses of plywood.  In fact, I’ve cut all but one of the necessary pieces I need for the project.  I would have all of them cut, but I made a few mistakes this past Sunday which will require me to go buy more 3/4″ oak plywood.  In the meantime, I decided to start shaping what will be the rails on the sides of the crib.

The plan doesn’t call for any edge rounding, chamferring, or other rounding of any of the surfaces, but I dedided I wanted something a little smoother – something with a little more character to give the impression that I didn’t just follow a set of instructions from start to finish.  Originally, I had planned on using my new Porter-Cable bullnose router bit to do the shaping, so I would only need to make two passes on each piece of wood.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the 1/2″ collet for my router, so I ended up using a roundover bit with a 1/4″ shaft.  The bit worked great, I just needed to make twice as many cuts. I set up my router table:


using a featherboard I fashioned out of a scrap of plywood:


This was quite handy, as I didn’t have to worry nearly as much about keeping the workpieces against the fence as I would have needed to without the featherboard. Another nice thing about this setup is that there are two switches, one on the router itself and one on the router table. It gives me a lot of peace of mind knowing I have to turn it on in two places before the bit starts spinning.  I got everything in place, safety goggles on, my shop vac dust collector running, and began making sawdust.  108 passes over the roundover bit later I had a nice set of rails ready for sanding:


I’ll spend a good deal of time on each rail with various grits of sandpaper, smoothing out the edges and taking care of a few burn marks along the way.  Thankfully these pieces don’t need to be identical (length aside), so a few dissimilarities should add character to the piece.  At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.  The marks on the end grain are centering marks for this plan’s favorite joinery method – wooden dowels.  Drilling each of those holes is a pleasure I’m trying to put off for as long as possible.